Everyone knows the basics to preparing for a trip: a bag, essential clothes, some toiletries, a book, your camera, blah blah blah.
But there are a ton of things that fly under the radar until you have to actually deal with them. I call these secret travel prep tips, but the long version is “things you didn’t know you needed to prepare for travel”. We’ll go into those things in this article.
If you haven’t figured out the major things you need to prepare for a long-term solo backpacking trip, you’ll find an article here that I used.
1. Ask yourself WHY you’re taking this trip
Let’s start with one of the biggest things you should do to prepare for your trip. Ask yourself “why am I taking this trip?” What are your goals, what do you want to see and do and experience? How will you be challenging yourself so that you can grow? If you have something in mind to work on, characteristics-wise, how will you do that?
For example of the latter, I was an uber-planner, over researcher, and fun killer. I wanted to challenge myself to be more flexible and adaptive, gain resilience, and be open to spontaneous experiences. What I did? Book a one-way ticket and the first night in a hostel, only a little bit of planning (vague overview ideas so I wasn’t walking in completely blind) and told myself I’d figure it out as I went along. That led to an incredible first week, solid friendships for life, and new skills and characteristics forming within me.
Asking oneself about the purpose of the trip and what it means to you will make you – and others – understand the importance of it, give you purpose, and help you stay grounded. It’ll help you in times when you have to make decisions, which friends you decide to hang out with, and what adventures you have. It’ll create a narrative that underlies your whole journey and bring you through a story that you get to create.
Take 10 minutes to think and write down why you’re going on this trip. You’ll thank yourself later.
2. The Balance of Planning vs. Spontaneity
In relation to the section above, I want to point out that you need to find your balance between planning and spontaneity.
You should definitely create an overview dream as to what you want your trip to look like, an estimated timeline (even if it’s flexible), which countries you think you’ll visit, and what you’ll experience. Do some dreaming on Pinterest, travel blogs, or even Instagram if that’s your thing. List out a few must-dos that you find.
Then keep an open mind. You’ll meet others, hear their recommendations, and want to be able to do/see/try those things that come up. Leave room for flexibility. Things will never 100% go the way you plan, so my advice is to not plan much.
This is a great way to challenge yourself. If you’re a planner, get rid of at least half the things you had planned. If you always just wing it, look up a few key things in the place you’re going to and find 1-3 things that you’d love to experience.
Local festivals, events, and food can be some great ones to look for, if your travel dates coincide! I’ll post a list of my favourite experiences while abroad in the coming future.
It can be tempting to want to do all the things, but even with over a year in Asia I missed SO MUCH. So try to be realistic, keep in mind that fun can pop up unexpectedly, and be open to trying something new.
Relationships of all kinds need preparation for when you leave for your trip. From family to friends to romantic partners, if you’ve got close relationships, you need to tell these people that you’ll be gone for a while. A few people I had in my life that this affected were my family, a few close friends, and a boyfriend.
Prepare to have a talk with them about how long you’ll be gone for (even if you don’t know, be honest and say that!), where you’ll be going, what you’ll be doing, WHY you’re going (you did this work already, which will help explaining your perspective to others), among other things. Be as honest as possible, though leave out details that you know would make them try to stop you, such as that bungee jumping you want to try or going to a country that isn’t necessarily the “safest”. You know your loved ones, so try to gauge how much info is appropriate to share. The last thing you need is external doubts and pressures when you may have your own – which will be covered later in this article!
Expect mixed reactions and lots of emotions. Some people will be elated and excited for you, others voicing their fears and worries, even demanding that you stay. The positive reactions are easier to deal with, so keep them around as you have the other, more difficult ones. The next section deals with the negative reactions.
I’ll write a post about this in detail to help you have this conversation and dishing out the tough love you need to stand up for your dream. As for significant others, I’ll also have a full post about this with my experience, but basically, it’s important for you to tell them as early as possible so they can prepare. Depending on your relationship and how long you plan to go for, this may be harder than other conversations. The hard truth: be prepared to decide between your travels and your significant other.
4. Dealing with negativity
I’m guessing with 99% confidence that you’ll face some sort of negativity after announcing that you’ll be going on a trip. This can come up in the forms of jealousy, worry, judgement, and maybe even betrayal.
The more negative-seeming reactions from family and close friends mostly come out of love. They want to keep you safe and healthy, and believe that staying in your current life is the best way to accomplish that. Maybe they’re right in some aspects – I broke my shoulder TWICE while abroad – but the “what if” regret is a strong feeling that can chip away at you. Explain your need for this journey, the ways you’ll keep in contact, and what you’ve done to prepare for emergencies (something I bring up later in this post as well!). If you’ve never traveled solo before, assuring them about the preparation you’ve done for various situations will reassure them a fair bit.
From co-workers, acquaintances, and people who don’t seem to be happy for you, or even resentful (and you can usually tell) – that’s often from jealousy. This can also be from family and friends. They’re unable to work to make their dreams reality or get over their own fears to make the leap and book the flight. They’re upset, and that’s not your fault, nor something you need to deal with. Politely and quickly remove yourself from their negative reactions if you don’t want to help them dig deeper as to why they’re reacting negatively.
Romantic relationships can be tricky. Depending on the length of time and if you’re breaking up with them, they may be sad, hurt, jealous, and/or betrayed. If that’s the case, try explaining from your point of view with your motivations. Honestly, if they’re not happy for you, maybe they’re not the right person for you. (That’s my perspective.)
Remind yourself why you’re going on this trip and how this will be a great thing. Don’t let the negativity take hold and ruin the anticipation!
5. Do some mental prep about fear
On the note of negativity, something that often comes up, both from within and externally, is fear.
Externally, people will ask you “aren’t you scared?” or start listing all the scary, worrisome things about travel – especially solo female travel. These words may make you come to doubt your travels, plant the seeds of worry within your own mind, or exacerbate your anxiety. To combat this, do the work from section one – know your WHY. (This is a powerful tool I use in my coaching practice as well!) Have your dreams, reasons, and motivations ready to combat these little niggling thoughts that come to poke at you. Do some prep work about safety and emergency procedures (which I cover below) so that you know what to do in worst case scenarios – everything else is figure-out-able, I promise.
A great article that features more on this (and silver linings!) is Why It’s Never the Right Time to Travel on Nomadic Matt’s blog.
As for your own fear, these same worries could be coming from yourself too. The “what if” situations play out in your head, but you know your drive to travel is stronger than the fears. Hold onto that desire, that sense of wonder, that excitement that makes you have butterflies in your stomach. Reinforce your why in your mind. Know that you DO have the abilities and resources to make things go smoothly and deal with the other situations. Believe in yourself.
Which brings me to the next item…
6. Take stock of your mental health and what could happen
Mental health affects us in our regular, every day lives, and travel can cause flare ups and triggers at any moment from a variety of potential factors.
Know what your mental health is like, look up resources in case a situation does come up, have your support system ready. Better to be safe than alone, abroad, not prepared for an episode.
My depression and anxiety flared up and I was able to reach out to friends and family who took care of me. I made friends along the way who I could rely on. I knew the crisis website of my home country. For dire circumstances, even if not my own, I knew the emergency numbers for the local country I was in.
Continuing the theme from above, taking care of yourself on the road is something to consider as well.
Know what helps you feel good, brings you back into the moment, and will help you go from having a bad day to at least a neutral one. Be kind to yourself when things go awry and do your best to take care of yourself.
There are a ton of great articles online about self-care activities– find the ones that work for you. Personally, I love reading, taking a walk in nature, talking to a friend, and meditating. To function at my best, I have to make sure I get enough sleep, eat well, get enough physical activity, and not push myself hard everyday.
Keep a lookout for future articles on self-care while on the road and travel burnout.
8. Know your emergency options
The current global pandemic caught most of us by surprise. Travelers were stranded or flown back home, but nothing is simple in this time. This has taught us a lesson in travel – when calamity strikes, will you be prepared?
Note: I don’t want to fear monger, but help ensure we’re all educated travelers that are able to do the best we can in difficult situations. It’s better to be prepared for the worst and know it is VERY unlikely to happen. (Even with the coronavirus, repatriation was expedited and visas were extended in case of you staying longer. Manageable!)
It’s key to know the right people and institutions to contact if crises strike. Make sure to have certain designated contacts who can help you (like a family member and a lawyer), the local emergency numbers for the country you’re in, and the contact for the embassy and/or consulate. Find out if there are any websites from your home government that you can register with and use to keep up to date for official news. Have an emergency fund to fly back home.
Do your research in this area, you never know when you’ll need it.
9. Sustainability to offset travel footprint
There are some amazing resources out there to start traveling greener, and I, too, have to do more research on this one. The next time I go out, I want to make sure I make a smaller impact than last time (though I did my best while on the ground). I won’t pretend to be an expert here, but will update this section as I become more educated myself. I do bring this up because I know of the topic and its importance for the sustainability of travel and the world, and I hope we can all do our part to educate ourselves and others.
Here are some of the links I’ve gone through so far:
Sustainable Travel International – great resource to start your education
6 Ways to Be a More Sustainable Traveler highlights the different kinds of sustainable travel
Sustainable Travel Guide by Canadian news outlet The Globe and Mail brings up many topics
40 Green Travel Tips by the wonderful site Green Global Travel have actionable steps you can take
How to Travel More Sustainably in 2020 has some great uncommon tips and info
10. Making investments before travel for travel
Travel can be expensive, and I’m here to tell you that you can make it more expensive with certain priorities.
A year in advance of my trip, knowing it was coming up, I had corrective laser eye surgery done so that I could live without glasses nor contact lenses. It was magical. One of the top investments I’ve made in my life. (I’ll have an article about this in detail in the future.) It was a big chunk of money, but I knew that it would change my life and make traveling so much better for me. That money could’ve gone to more travel, but I’m glad with the lifelong investment. No carrying around corrective lenses, worrying about my backups getting crushed in my bags, losing a lens underwater if my eye mask came off. This was a priority I researched and planned for.
Another that’s common is digital equipment, like a laptop, camera, and accessories. These can take a lot of money but are worth it if you’re going to be working while traveling, making a career out of digital arts, or place high value on gadgets and the high-resolution images that come from them. Research, think about it, and invest if it makes sense for you.
Investing in high ticket items before you travel are part of your travel costs, so don’t forget to take into account those costs. Know what your priorities are.
Bonus secret travel prep tip: Beauty
Last, and maybe least, is beauty prep. Something I didn’t really account for was how toiletries and beauty and all that would be affected by not having my own bathroom with hordes of stuff for any need that came up. Here are a few points I learned while traveling:
Body hair: waxing services are available in some places, but difficult to find in others (like South Korea), disposable razors are more readily stocked in some countries than others as well. If you’re going to be wearing a bathing suit, consider bringing some of your own supplies.
Deodorant: fun fact, most Koreans have a mutated gene so they don’t sweat as much as the rest of the world and it doesn’t smell. Unlike them, I need deodorant basically every day. Some places will have deodorant readily available, while others will jack up prices to be even more expensive than what you find at home. My suggestion? Bring at least one with you. (Then there’s going green and/or DIY so that you have healthier products – look into that for sure!)
Favourite toiletries: there’s a Korean toothpaste I love that doesn’t sting when I get canker sores. I made sure to bring a full tube of that and a regular toothpaste as well. Although most products are available, you’ll often find that the local brands are cheaper and easier to find.
If you’ve got a very particular item you know you’ll need, bring 1-2 of those. Otherwise, you can find similar products abroad.
So there you have it, the key things you didn’t know you needed to prepare for travel, my secret travel prep tips. This is a long one, and I hope it’s been helpful. Look forward to more posts in the future! Share this if it was helpful and comment if you’ve got something to say 🙂